Bird numbers at Maswa were exceptional and clearly that resource has been virtually untouched as all the birds that we encountered were far less skittish than birds that I've hunted across southern Africa.
We drove from the outfitter's headquarters on the edge of Arusha for about 2 ½ hours to get to Ngasari. Perhaps half the trip was on relatively smooth paved roads and the rest on dirt trails through arid landscape that is mostly grazed by Masaii with goats and cattle (very little game viewing enroute). This stop on the tour was in an extremely dusty area, but the camp was very pleasant with comfortable tents/beds and good food/wine and the full compliment of cocktails. We enjoyed exceptional gunning for chestnut-bellied sandgrouse one morning (the best that I've seen anywhere in Africa) and also had very productive shoots for driven guineas and yellow-necked spurfowl. These birds are very similar in size and behavior to the Swainson's spurfowl of southern Africa. They proved their worth as game birds for they were strong flying and provided an interesting mix of shooting along with the guineas. We found very strong concentrations of the birds around the camp and we had stunning views of Kilimanjaro while shooting on a couple of occasions. The party before us, however, was never able to see the mountain as it was obscured in clouds the entire duration of their stay in the camp. The owners/hosts of the camp were very helpful and friendly and were most enjoyable to be with. The camp staff also was very friendly and helpful and the beaters were enthusiastic and well coordinated. Driving from camp, we saw game ranging from giraffe to zebras to ostrich.
The drive from Ngasari to Lake Natron was mostly backtracking through over-grazed Masaii pastureland, but the last hour of the drive provided some interesting game viewing as we saw several lesser kudu and other plains game. The Lake Natron camp was even more comfortable than Ngasari with deluxe tents complete with separate wash facilities and hot showers. The camp staff/chef was excellent. Despite the fact that a large fire had burned nearby bird fields, we found superb numbers of guineas and yellow-throated spurfowl on each of our hunts. We enjoyed beats that were as productive as any that I've experienced in Africa. We also had consistently good game viewing for species other than the big five -- including two separate cheetah sightings. We did not shoot grouse while at Lake Natron (as indicated on the itinerary), but we did manage one good dove shoot near a waterhole. There are several species of doves in the area and even a few pigeons. A group of Masaii singers serenaded the group one night in camp and was a nice touch enjoyed by all. The field brunch was a hit with the group who enjoyed the very picturesque setting.
The drive from Lake Natron to the Crater was broken up by a stop back at the outfitter's headquarters in Arusha for lunch. However, the 8-hour drive was the most grueling of the trip as much of the road leading up to the Crater was very rough. This stretch of highway, however, is being paved and may be completed in time for next season. If so, this will change the dynamic of the drive considerably. There is also an air strip at Natron from which a party could charter a plane to fly directly to the Crater (weather permitting). These planes were like new and were well maintained with the latest electronics. The Crater was a hit with the entire group -- especially the women in the party. A separate game-viewing vehicle can be made available for non-shooters so that they have the option of doing something other than watching the guns shoot birds. The previous group apparently took full advantage of this opportunity. The stay at Serena Lodge was a very nice break from the tent camps as it provided some of the creature comforts not available in the camps. The lodge is situated on the rim of the crater and provided an astounding view of this natural wonder. The day spent in the Crater was among the most memorable days of the entire trip. Game viewing included up-close views of lions, elephants, buffalo, and many other plains game species. We also got a long-distance glimpse of a rhino and only lacked finding a leopard to complete a big five tour by lunch. The food at Serena was good but not exceptional and a few people mentioned that their beds were a bit too firm for restful sleep -- though the general impression of the stay there was very positive.
The camp was simply stunning in a very picturesque setting. The group before us encountered some 60 elephants within a distance of 100 yards of camp and had several lions very close to camp as well. Prior to our arrival, however, heavy rains had fallen and the game dispersed from the river pool located below the camp. Because of the rains, the shooting for yellow-throated sandgrouse -- the largest of the sandgrouse species -- was poor as the birds no longer concentrated at their traditional watering hole. We did enjoy very good guinea and spurfowl shooting, though even some of those birds had dispersed and initially proved challenging for the beaters. Again, the bird numbers at Maswa were exceptional and clearly that resource has been virtually untouched as all the birds that we encountered were far less skittish than birds that I've hunted across southern Africa.